How many of you are on Spring Break right now? I sure am, though that doesn’t excuse me from my writing duties. It still does give me a chance to play some video games, something I’m sure many of you also do. There’s just something about games that’s begun to bother me and for the easiest finger to point, let’s take a look at Xbox Achievements, called Gamerscores. These are rewards that mean absolutely nothing but push us to complete them regardless. The PS3 has Trophies and while the Wii doesn’t have an official system, many games have a form of achievement grinding. What’s the point to these achievements? I don’t know, so Let’s Think Deep.
Beaten To The Punch
First, there are two videos you should really watch before we continue. The Only Thing I Know by Brian Schmoyer is a video about his addiction to video games that warns everyone about the addictive attributes of video games. I don’t agree with everything he says, but he makes a lot of extremely good points. The other video is the current episode of The Game Overthinker called Building a Better Gamer by Bob Chipman. Chipman explains the shortcomings that gamers tend to have and how to avoid them. Once again, I don’t agree with everything he says, but he, too, makes numerous excellent points (particularly his thought that Xbox Live has done more damage to gaming than anything else, a fact I completely agree on). Watch those two and you’ll have a good starting point to work from about the concept of pushing ourselves as gamers to get to a certain level of completion with games and why this can be more destructive than productive.
A Shift In Play Styles
That said, I find myself playing games a lot differently now. I’ve stopped playing a good deal of Xbox 360 games specifically with the intent of just beating them and enjoying the time spent playing, as I would with many other games. Instead, I’ll make a conscious effort to do things that will reward me with achievements, sometimes things that make no sense towards my enjoyment of the title, and sometimes things that make the title less enjoyable, even downright unlikable.
My best example of this comes from my recent experience with Resident Evil 5. I keep bringing it up because I played this one to absolute completion. I have 1000 Gamerpoints for the game, meaning I did absolutely everything the game could give me points for within the confines of the game disc (meaning no DLC). The system itself makes no sense. For example, I received 15 points for every chapter I beat in the game and 30 when I beat the game on the first three difficulty settings. Beating the game on Professional difficulty, something that’s insane due to one-hit-kills and unstoppable enemy AI/brain-dead partner AI, gave me 70 points. Okay, that’s nice I suppose, but hitting an arrow out of the air gave me 60 points. On the scale of difficulty, the game considers hitting an arrow out of the air twice as impressive as beating the game, but slightly less impressive than beating the game on the hardest difficulty. A better example comes from the 30 points I got from purchasing and upgrading every weapon in the game, something that takes roughly 6 playthroughs of the game. That took me a month. 30 points. Hitting an arrow out of the air: roughly 30 seconds. 60 points. Does that make sense?
What complicates things more is the lack of consistency between titles on the system. Fight Night Round 3, one of my favorite 360 titles, is another game I have 1000 Gamerpoints on. There are 8 achievements in that game. Only 8. You get them from winning fights in career mode, something you’ll be doing anyway. Each achievement is worth 100 and 150 points, respectively. Just from playing the game. Gears of War will give me 10 points for getting 100 kills online with the Lancer chainsaw, something that will take me days to accomplish.
The PS3 isn’t exempt from this either since they’ve implemented their Trophy system, essentially the same exact system on the 360, with a different name. You still get points/trophies for doing certain things in a game, usually things that just require time. This whole “completion” aspect to games has been around for years though. Metroid on the NES rewarded you for beating the game with a fast time by showing Samus in a bikini, a huge plot twist to learn she was a woman. If you didn’t play the game very well, you’d never realize she was a woman and end up missing out on something special. The aspect I find frustrating with a lot of games now is the lack of a reward for your completion.
All That Work for Nothing
One of the most disappointing moments of my youth comes from Super Mario 64, a Game You Should Have Played. The game itself is fantastic. I played it for hours and hours, loving most of my play experience with the title. There were, however, 120 stars in the game to earn and not all of them were a cakewalk. Some were downright cruel to attain. But there was a cannon outside the castle that was still closed, so I knew somehow I’d have to open that sucker up. After pushing myself to get all 120 stars, the cannon opened and allowed me to use it. Once inside, I fired myself onto the roof of the castle, a place I couldn’t get to any other way. What did I find up there? Yoshi! Yoshi was on top of the castle (this isn’t a spoiler, I’m just giving you my childhood excitement)! I go to talk to him, thinking I’ll get something wonderful for all my trouble, like the chance to play as him in the game or a final, ultimate level. He gives me a message from the developers telling me “Thanks for playing Super Mario 64!” Then I get 100 lives and Yoshi hops away. Let me repeat that there: I have just completed everything there is to do in the game, and the game rewards me by giving me 100 lives, a commodity that’s already relatively useless within the structure of the title. What was the point of that?
Let’s hear another example, shall we? Ocarina of Time, my shining example for a near-perfect game, has a side-quest that sends you all over the game’s world in order to attain something called the Biggoron Sword, my favorite Zelda item ever. The side-quest was tough to complete, but my reward was a weapon capable of beating most enemies easily and making the rest of the game far simpler. My efforts pay off. However, there is another side-quest that doesn’t pay off. Early on you come across a place in Kakariko Village called the Skulltula House where a family has been cursed. The only way to break the curse on them is to destroy every Gold Skulltula in the game, of which there are 100. You don’t really have to collect these, though every ten up to the 50th rewards you with something, such as a larger wallet or a heart piece. Killing yourself to find all 100 will reward you with a Gold Rupee, worth 500 Rupees, every time you visit the house, basically meaning that you have infinite money. However, at that point in the game, you’ve probably already done everything and gone everywhere, making the need for money obsolete. Great reward. Just, you know, not really.
The important aspect needed for achievements is a tangible reward that adds to the game in some way. Farmville is becoming ridiculously huge now, so much so that more of you probably know and play Farmville than any other game I mention here. I even played Farmville for a while until I finally realized there was nothing keeping me playing other than meaningless achievements. You get achievements for doing pretty much everything in the game, from collecting decorations to plowing your fields to harvesting your trees. The game breaks these achievements down into four colors of ribbons, with the easiest ribbons being super simple to get while the highest color require months of time to complete. What do you get for your trouble? Usually just some money, an experience bonus, and maybe a gift. I diligently harvested my trees to get the blue ribbon in tree harvesting and what did I get? Another tree. Was it a special tree? Nope, just another tree exactly like the dozens I already had. I ended up selling it right back for 5 coins. I quit playing not long after that, mostly because these achievements felt like they were added just to keep gamers playing for arbitrary goals (spoiler: they were).
As I said before, a game needs to really reward you for your efforts. Final Fantasy 7 has something like achievements in so much as there are special Materia that you can only get through diligent work and skill. Two side-quests involve killing the strongest enemies on the game: Ruby and Emerald Weapon. Just to beat these, you need to be at level 99 and know a particular strategy to stand any sort of chance against these monsters. And if you beat them, what do you get? Materia of course! It makes the final boss fight easier, but at level 99, you’ll probably have no trouble with him anyway. Even worse, another side-quest requires you to breed Chocobo until you have a Gold Chocobo, capable of crossing all terrain, opening up yet more areas that contain yet more Materia. Still, the amount of time you spend breeding Chocobo is far more than it’d just take you to level grind and raise the level of your currently equipped Materia, making the task utterly pointless save for the driving need to do more in the game.
So when does an achievement really mean something? I made sure to attain 100% completion scores on all three Metroid Prime games since doing so gives me a little more of the ending. Nothing critical for story, but just enough that it’s a nice extra. Donkey Kong 64 gives an entire bonus ending that makes the whole experience worth the trouble, assuming you don’t want to just find the video on YouTube. Super Mario Galaxy unlocks Luigi as a playable character when you get 120 stars as Mario, but of course getting 120 stars as Luigi only unlocks a 121st star for each to get that requires no skill and only rewards you with a photo that you can send to your friends, showing that you’ve gone through the trouble to play the game that much.
I’m actually having a hard time thinking of a single game that provides a decent reward for a 100% completion. Smash Bros Melee offered more characters and levels for meeting difficult criteria within the game, but nothing for a 100% completion of the game. My love of games is starting suffer, but I’ve made a point never to force myself to do something in a game that would cause negative effects in my actual life. I won’t lose sleep or blow off my friends just to keep playing a game, and I certainly won’t say no to a movie with my wife just so I can keep getting more Gamerpoints, but I’m not everyone.
Has the need to fully “complete” a game begun to ruin video games for me? Has it had the same effect on you as well? Can you think of a single game that provided an awesome reward for a 100% completion rating, or anything other than an alternate costume or a star next to your save data? Leave me a comment and let me know. I’ll get back to you eventually, right after I collect all those Skulltulas.